Here's what Amazon-backed Zoox’s autonomous robo-taxi looks like

The new creation combines AI, robotics, advanced vehicle engineering and sustainable energy

Autonomous mobility company Zoox, an independent subsidiary of e-commerce giant Amazon, revealed its first fully-functional, self-driven electric vehicle.

The vehicle, which can carry four passengers, can move bidirectionally and is designed for busy city roads, the company said. It is a purpose-built robo-taxi that combines artificial intelligence, robotics, advanced vehicle engineering and sustainable energy.

Here are some details about the new prototype, its features and what to expect.

What is Zoox?

Founded in 2014, the California-based company is a developer of self-driving cars and is currently working to design autonomous ride-hailing vehicles. The company raised $1 billion and was valued at $3.2bn after a 2018 funding round.

In June, Amazon agreed to buy Zoox for more than $1bn. The Washington-headquartered company is reportedly working with Zoox to create a ride-hailing fleet to compete with Waymo, the self-driving industry leader backed by Alphabet. Industry analysts said Amazon can also use automated cars to deliver goods to customers.

Other Zoox investors include Breyer Capital, the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Lux Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes.

How does the new prototype work?

Zoox said its autonomous EV is created for dense, urban environments. Designed and manufactured in the US, the robo-taxi is capable of operating at more than 120 kilometres per hour in both directions. It features a four-seat, face-to-face symmetrical seating configuration.

The new vehicle marks an important step towards deploying an autonomous ride-hailing service, said Aicha Evans, Zoox chief executive.

“As we see the alarming statistics around carbon emissions and traffic accidents, it’s more important than ever that we build a sustainable, safe solution that allows riders to get from point A to point B,” Ms Evans said.

Bidirectional driving capabilities and four-wheel steering allow the vehicle to cruise through compact spaces and change directions without reversing.

How safe is it?

The vehicle comes with more than 100 new safety innovations, the company said.

These include an advanced airbag system for bidirectional vehicles and carriage seating that envelops passengers on all four seats, offering crash safety protections. There is a unique sensor architecture that combines cameras, sensors and radars to get a 270-degree view from all four corners of the vehicle, eliminating blind spots.

“Safety is the foundation of everything we do. Building a vehicle from the ground-up has given us the opportunity to reimagine passenger safety,” Jesse Levinson, Zoox’s chief technology officer, said.

How big is the battery?

At 3.63 metres long, the vehicle comes with 133 kilowatt-hour battery, one of the largest available in autonomous vehicles today, allowing it to operate for up to 16 continuous hours on a single charge.

How much does it cost?

Zoox, which is currently testing its vehicles in Las Vegas, San Francisco and other Bay Area locations in the US, has not disclosed the price of the new prototype or the expected date of its commercial roll-out.